8 ♠ The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Another re-read and another Dupin – hurrah!

One of the many wonderful things about this Poe story is the beginning.  The narrator basically starts with a spiel on how checkers players have to be more analytical than chess players, since “the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts [checkers] than by the elaborate frivolity of chess.”  His words, not mine.  He argues that chess requires concentration, but checkers requires cleverness, as when, for example, a game of checkers results in four kings and one player wins.  I like this bit very much, since I’m good at checkers and absolutely dismal at chess.

The real story, of course, centers upon the meeting of C. Auguste Dupin and the narrator, as well as a gory murder case which occurs soon after.  It’s hard to believe I had forgotten the solution to the mystery; now it seems very memorable and one I’m not likely to forget again.  The detective work doesn’t seem very impressive compared to a Holmes story, and you might think it less than believable for an armchair detective (Dupin visits the scene of the crime, but the bulk of his work is done at home).  Once again, though, I’m left wishing there were more than three stories to this series!

In personality and profile, the similarities between Dupin and Holmes are extraordinary.  Both are implied to be born into the “landed gentry” or better, yet fallen upon hard financial and/or personal times.  Both are well educated eccentrics with an interest in crime-solving as a methodical science.  Both have a flare for the dramatic at unexpected moments.  The main differences I can see is that Dupin tends to rely heavily on intuition and probabilities, which Holmes might find to be shaky ground.  Holmes, too, is completely dedicated to his work and (at the beginning) tries very hard to further his career, while Dupin – perhaps having more to fall back upon – is content to leave it all as a hobby, just another puzzle to contemplate during his retreat from society.

I’d better stop there…

   “You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”
   Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. “No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,” he observed. “Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends’ thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour’s silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.”

The only time Holmes seems like a fictional character is when he takes offense being compared to one.  Oops!

10 ♦ Beauty and the Beast

Once again – I assure you I shuffled this deck very well!  But I can’t really complain to get another fairytale, and what could be more appropriate for Valentine’s weekend than this story?

The original “Beauty and the Beast” was written in the 18th century by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont.  According to the endnotes of the online version I read, Beaumont in turn based her story on a folktale retelling by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

It’s interesting that in both cases the author was female, because I’ve always felt that Belle (to use her Disney name!) was one of the best fairytale heroines.  In this story, she is completely unselfish and quite honest in her feelings for the Beast, which are initially just those of friendship.  The Beast himself is more melancholy than sinister, and even for a short story the romance is developed enough to make sense and bring closure at the end.

I would say one thing Disney did right was to make the antagonist Gaston, the sleazy suitor, instead of keeping Belle’s selfish sisters, which is already done in other fairytales.  Also, as I’m reading the synopsis to Villeneuve’s version on Wikipedia, it seems that Beaumont chose to omit the Beast’s backstory, thereby omitting some of the depth to the tale.  On the other hand, the benefit of it is that Beaumont’s story is Belle-centric, and you feel that she has finally found happily-ever-after through her own virtues and endeavors.

4 ♠ The Mystery of Marie Rogêt … A ♥ The Old Manse

Mystery of Marie RogetThe Mystery of Marie Rogêt is from the trio of C. Augustus Dupin mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe.  It is closely based on the real-life murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers, except the setting is Paris instead of New York City.  Marie Rogêt leaves her home one Sunday evening, purportedly to visit a relative, and she is not seen again until her body is found floating in the Seine.  The newspapers are full of speculation regarding the mystery, but Dupin’s only concern is to reconcile the known facts with each other and, slightly different than his British counterpart, to eliminate the unlikely.

I remember when I first read this story, years ago, and found it to be pretty bland.  It is more of a commentary than a story.  The one thing that stood out to me this time was the brutality of the crime, much worse than the average Holmes story, but more true to life in that it was based on real life.  I think we tend to have a rose-colored perspective of the 19th century, but really it was profuse with some of the same issues, and the same barbarity of crimes, that exist today.

Despite the slow pace of the Dupin stories, I do wish Poe had written a full-blown detective series, just like I wish Melville had written more Royal Navy stories.  Then perhaps there would be more of these humorous random moments:

…the Prefect broke forth at once into explanations of his own views, interspersing them with long comments upon the evidence; of which latter we were not yet in possession. He discoursed much, and beyond doubt, learnedly; while I hazarded an occasional suggestion as the night wore drowsily away. Dupin, sitting steadily in his accustomed arm-chair, was the embodiment of respectful attention. He wore spectacles, during the whole interview; and an occasional signal glance beneath their green glasses, sufficed to convince me that he slept not the less soundly, because silently, throughout the seven or eight leaden-footed hours which immediately preceded the departure of the Prefect.

Detroit Photographic Company (0389)

It’s early days, but so far The Old Manse by Hawthorne is my favorite from the Deal Me In challenge.  I can’t really explain it, but I feel a very strong connection to Hawthorne’s writing.  Even when he is just writing about the old house he lived in, for a short time, there is something so personal and profound in the way he makes the whole place become real to you and impresses you with its quiet significance.

He talks about Emerson, whose family lived in the house for decades before Hawthorne.  He describes a vignette from the Revolutionary War which he supposes could have taken place within view of the Old Manse.  Hawthorne takes you down the river on a fishing excursion, and you walk with him through his bountiful orchard in the autumn, and watch his garden grow in the spring.

We were so free to-day that it was impossible to be slaves again to-morrow. When we crossed the threshold of the house or trod the thronged pavements of a city, still the leaves of the trees that overhang the Assabeth were whispering to us, “Be free! be free!”

Eventually, Hawthorne’s life took him him back to the city, away from the Old Manse, to earn his livelihood working at a customs house.  There is always this call in his stories to keep these beautiful places in your head, pure moments that live in your memory and which even time can’t undo.  A very Romantic notion…but something quite uplifting, even practical, for day-to-day life.

8 ♦ Ashputtle

Cinderella-Prinsep …also known as Cinderella!

I promise I shuffled the cards very, very well at the beginning of this challenge, and yet here we have another fairytale.   Not that I’m complaining.  (And besides, random selection is unlikely to be uniform.)  I already know my next card – and rest assured! it’s not a diamond.

The Grimm fairytales are an altogether different assortment than Andersen.  For one thing, the Grimm brothers were primarily collectors, scholars, and editors, not inventors of original tales.  There is decidedly less poetry in their stories.  The style is terse and upfront, making these plots fast-paced and very short.  “Ashputtle” is no exception.

Once again, I was unsettled by the violence – and, well, mutilation – found in an otherwise familiar setting.  There was no modern feeling of concern in Ashputtle’s marrying a stranger, since she could hardly do worse than her own family.  Even her father, alive in this version, appears to disown her; he is quick to marry again and also begins to think of her as a servant.  I don’t know…I guess it was a happy ending (?!).

It was interesting how logistics were handled in this story.  The narrator is so careful to explain how Ashputtle could have gone to the ball in her beautiful gown and come back in time to change back into her old dress.  Yet other facts (the origins of the family dysfunction, for one) are completely glossed over.  I suppose that is more characteristic of what a child’s questions would be, as opposed to an adult’s.

I’ve read a few other Grimm stories before this one, and I can say that the difference between the “dark” aspects of Grimm versus those of Andersen are the way they are presented.  Andersen takes his stories pretty seriously and wants the reader to do the same.  Grimms’ stories are almost tongue-in-cheek, self-consciously shocking, and effectively dark humor.  I’ll bet that was more for the storyteller’s benefit than the children’s…

3 stars.

Wait – I ought to mention Hawthorne, since his mythology came first.  He would certainly not have written something so dark as “Ashputtle,” and I think that – dare I say it – his distinctly American type of realism would not have come up with a moral as convoluted as the one in “The Little Mermaid.”  The trade-off is that while I can rate “The Golden Fleece” higher, these other two are vastly more memorable.

To a degree, it may be unfair to compare them exactly.  A mythology should be a bit grand, and a fairytale at least a little weird.  Still, these were all written for children, and I think there is something to get out of each of them, as different as they are.

5 ♦ The Little Mermaid

Page 130 illustration in fairy tales of Andersen (Stratton)

Not gonna lie…I cried.  😦

This is an original fairytale by Hans Christen Andersen (who also wrote the lesser-known “The Wild Swans,” probably my favorite fairytale of all time).  Most people know “The Little Mermaid” from the Disney film, and initially the plots are very similar.  A young mermaid, forever fascinated by the world of humans, is finally allowed to rise to the surface of the sea on her fifteenth birthday.  As it would happen, she falls in love with a human prince, who is also celebrating his birthday on board a ship.  And – as it always does – the little mermaid’s love is a lost cause, because when she tries to escape the world she was born into, it comes at a terrible price.

I almost just called her “Ariel,” but Andersen’s mermaid, prince, and Sea King are anonymous throughout the story.  It makes it even more poignant, I think, and maybe that is the power of these old fairytales – you are allowed to project your own characterization onto the character, except for those traits that stand out most, like the little mermaid’s voice.  You know you are only going to follow their lives for the duration of the short story, and they’re like strangers whom, for one moment in your life, you get to know.

There are so many things wrong with this story.  I am going to get a bit analytical here, and be warned of all the major spoilers below the cut:

Andersen’s version of the mermaid “race” is a strange, strange conglomeration of different philosophies and religions.  It reads more like mythology than a fairytale.  Essentially, the little mermaid learns she must become human to have a chance at winning the prince’s heart, and (in the same breath) her marriage to him would be the only way for her to gain an immortal soul, and the future of “heaven.”

To become human, she has to get a magic potion from a nasty sorceress-mermaid, and to pay for the potion, she must give her gift – her uniquely beautiful voice.  This is no Disneyfied metaphor; the poor little mermaid actually lets the sorceress cut out her tongue.  I sure didn’t remember that bit from childhood.  And of course, to walk is torture for her.  Her feet literally bleed from it as she follows the prince on his excursions in the mountains.

This prince must be the cruelest jerk who ever held the title.  He uses her as his listener, friend, and girlfriend, and even tells her he would marry her, but for everybody’s expectations.  In the end, he marries a princess and forgets all about her, the girl who saved his life and could not even tell him that she had.

By no means would I give this story to a child young enough to take it seriously.  As an older reader, I found the portrayal of heartbreak to be quite moving, even insightful.  It is a hard but important lesson to learn – that, do what you might (and especially wrong), you may not get what you want.  Some people don’t deserve you, and some things aren’t meant to be.  The prince may not be as noble and good as he looks.

Others have taken issue with the happy ending, and I have to agree.  My quibble is not with the happiness of the ending, but with the moral: because of her good deeds, the little mermaid is given a chance to earn immortal life as a “daughter of the air” (Angel?  Bird?  Cloud?  What does it mean?).  Herein lies the problem – what are these “good deeds” she has done?  True, she saved the prince’s life.  But she also took help from the sorceress, and her whole quest for immortality was tied to the prince in the first place.  I can suspend some disbelief given her naivete; however, this still feels like a plot hole.

*sigh*  I have such a love/hate feeling about this story.  It could be written much better, yet at the same time, its brutality is (perhaps) key to the message.  3 out of 5 stars.